Led by a revelatory turn by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, James Ponsoldt's "Smashed" is a Sundance sensation turned Oscar contender thanks to her performance. The film follows Kate as she tries to navigate a path to sobriety, while wrapped up in a relationship with her husband (Aaron Paul) that has largely revolved around the bottle. We caught up with Winstead at the Toronto International Film Festival last month to talk about the movie. For what is arguably the most complex role she's had in her career, Winstead delved deep and studied hard in order to do the subject matter right.
And while observation and participation in AA helped in building the role, so did good old fashioned studying and workshopping, an endeavor she undertook with Ponsoldt. And in particular it helped with one of most difficult, key aspects of the character: playing drunk. "I think we were both really scared about the drunk scenes because it's so easy for that to be just terrible. It's a really hard thing to do, and I've never done it before, so I had no tricks as far as how to make it work," Winstead candidly revealed. "So together we found this coach named Ivana Chubbuck who has this book called 'The Power Of The Actor' and she has a chapter specifically dedicated to playing drunk....We sat in a couple of classes, and we did one of the scenes in her class as well, so we used her method a lot for that. And that was really helpful because we just didn't want it to feel like acting. How do you not act drunk, but not really be drunk? That's a difficult thing to pull off."
And Winstead took all those lessons and insights and ran with them. The character of Kate carries the picture, and in turn, so does Winstead in "Smashed." Calling the part "exciting," and a rare one that allowed her to go on "a complete emotional rollercoaster," the actress acknowledges that the buzz is already opening more doors for her, and giving her more confidence to chase down or audition for parts she might not have before. And the tools she used on "Smashed," she plans on bringing with her for whatever she does next.
"There's are a lot of things I have done in the past just that are acting 101 type [roles], something that every actor who takes acting classes would do and would learn," she reflected. "But there's a lot more specificity and a lot more prep work, like a lot of writing work that you do and character-based stuff that you do [when preparing for a role like this]. And it's the kind of thing I want to continue to do for everything, even if it's a small part, or even if it's a part seemingly not as complex as this one, because I think it just really helps to make it very, very specific and I really, really enjoyed that."
"Smashed" opens in limited release on October 12th.